Stories From Our Landscape.


Deborah Geffner
Deborah Geffner

 

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This writer and three others will have their short stories read aloud at the Annenberg  Community Beach House on Tuesday, August 16, 2016 at 6:30pm.

My story, “The Bright Shop”, concerns a  European refugee who designs a new life in 1960s Los Angeles only to see it crumble on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Actor Deborah Geffner will perform it.

Tickets are free but require reservations.

 

Crest Apartments


 

 

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One of the best buildings in Los Angeles has opened in one of the least likely locations.

Crest Apartments, 13604 Sherman Way, is a $20 million dollar, 45,000 s.f.,  64-unit apartment for the Skid Row Housing Trust. It is east of Woodman Av.

It provides special needs support for the chronically homeless as well as veterans. Social services and a federally supported health clinic are part of the complex.

Architect Michal Maltzan designed a five story tall, tautly elegant building. Rising subtly from its garish surroundings of motels, billboards, discarded furniture, speeding cars and urban decay, Crest Apartments is a crisp, all-white façade with no signage and no ornamentation.

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Mr. Malzan has experience designing many lauded buildings, including another homeless project near downtown, New Carver Apartments, which has received many awards.

There is irony in the fact that an exquisite, understated and artful building will now house a marginalized group of people.

The Crest Project is but a drop in the bucket of solutions to the appalling and obscene homelessness afflicting our city.

In a better nation, morality, money, architecture and the public good would join hands to build a more humane and aesthetic city. But reality favors bluster, bravado and bragging.

Some of the ugliest housing in Van Nuys and greater Los Angeles is still going up for those who feign affluence and success.

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The Once and Future Panorama City.


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In Panorama City near Roscoe and Tobias, a once bustling shopping center, housing a Montgomery Ward and Electric Avenue, sits in desolation and decay.

Acres of asphalt, decorated with some tree islands, surround windowless buildings paint washed in blues, pinks, grays, and greens.

A bustling, prosperous, crowded shopping center closed down and emerged as a 21st Century ghost town. The stores died but the ghosts are alive.
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Los Angeles is like that. A wagon train of commercial banality moves around the city, setting up camp every decade and replacing what came before it. Melrose and Westwood were hot in the 80s and now it’s Santa Monica. Downtown LA was dead for so long. Now it is ascendant, and should stay that way until about 2030. Culver City is competing against Century City. Pasadena is jogging to keep in place, and upstart Glendale is emulating Beverly Hills.

And Reseda, Panorama City, Van Nuys, and Northridge are on life support.

Up there at Roscoe and Tobias something so vast and so important, a place that hundreds worked in, and thousands shopped at is gone, and waiting for a new huckster and a new plan.

What follows is purely imaginary but may contain some grains of truth.

No doubt, when the powers that be ordain it, it will be “mixed use” and appear gentle and green and village like. There will be fountains and benches and lounges and 14 movie theaters and 2 Costcos interspersed between senior living, child friendly, family welcoming, diversity hiring, green-certified and wifi-enabled promises.

The LA Times and the Daily News will write about it. But nobody will read it. An uninformed citizenry is the best choice for a nation hoping to remain powerless or for a community uninterested, unprepared and unlearned in its own future.

There will be a groundbreaking event with Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilwoman Nury Martinez, LA Philharmonic Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the St. Genevieve Catholic Church Choir, the Kaiser Permanente/Westfield Mall Hospital Executive Board, along with LAFD red fire trucks, LAPD black and white police cars and actors Eric Estrada, Mario Lopez, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez. KCAL will interrupt regular broadcasting to cover “breaking news” here.

Today’s event marks the revitalization of Panorama City!

This is a new day for Panorama City with walkable, urban living 20 miles north of the city center.

This will be the finest shopping center between Van Nuys and Pacoima!

When civilization comes to Los Angeles it has to be underwritten by banks, the Chinese Government and the Westfield Corporation.

I imagine it will be centered around walking. But no buses will stop here.

There will be 100 affordable income apartments renting for $2800 a month, and 4,000 market priced units starting at $800,000.

There will be an 8-story tall parking structure for 5,000 cars, and 10 bikes and high-security cameras surrounding it all.

In the 110-degree heat, black spandex clad people will drive here in their air-conditioned SUVs. They’ll eat organic ice cream,  climb artificial rock walls, work out at the new 24 Hour Fitness and emerge to drink ice coffee. They will eat Unami Burgers, drink Golden Road beer, and shop at Crate and Barrel. Every weekend, three new blockbuster films will screen here, and thousands of tattooed fatties in flip-flops will pay $16 a ticket to watch computer generated toys destroy the Earth.

President Donald Trump will send congratulatory messages to the community where nobody voted for him and promise “amazing and unbelievable things” for Panorama City. Forgotten was his promise to deport which would have brought the population of the area to less than 100 people.

Or maybe none of the above will happen, and the big frontier will go on a little longer, a reminder of what shopping center life was like in 1975.

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Fire Party


The enormous Valentine’s Day conflagration that consumed the former home of prostitutes and drugs called the Voyager Motel brought out hundreds of firefighters.

And hundreds of spectators, photographers, cars and neighbors who eagerly and gleefully watched smoke and flames from safe vantage points near the fire site at Sepulveda and Hamlin Streets.

Children were hoisted atop parental shoulders, laughing bicycles circled streets, black clad Vaca Negras in their Sunday best waddled to box seats near the flames.

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It was the greatest entertainment in our area since an elephant stood on a driveway and hosed a car on an episode of Workaholics.

We had been driving from downtown, and on the 101 near Laurel Canyon could see a funnel cloud of dark smoke, somewhere in the NW distance, and then heard on the radio, an announcement, that there was an enormous blaze happening right near our home.

When we drove up Hamlin, the strong winds were blowing the acrid fumes south, away from our street, as if God herself had intervened to produce something dangerous and exciting within hundreds of feet from our house, without endangering any of us.

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The life risks were undertaken by 170 firefighters who spent almost three hours dousing the fire, killing it by drowning it until its fearsomeness and ferociousness fled.

For years, the Voyager Motel was a constant blight on the area. Nothing could end that local monster whose clientele paid by the hour, and whose rooms and reputation stained and demoralized everything around it. The sex and drug trade flourished. Nightly sirens and helicopters and cops buzzed the fleabag whorehouse. And then, last year, the motel was shut down, or went out of business.

One problem ended in Van Nuys, as 666 other criminal activities flourished.

Yesterday, Satan returned to finish his business at the Voyager Motel, his personal university in Van Nuys, and did it in his usual surprise way.

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VNCC Member Penny Meyer (L) pays an official visit to the fire scene.
VNCC Member Penny Meyer (L) pays an official visit to the fire scene.

 

 

 

 

Visit to a Dying Bridge


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The sun was out, the winds were blowing, the air was dry and we drove over in the Super Bowl ghosted city to see the 6th Street Bridge, an 85-year-old patient whose arms and legs still spanned the Los Angeles River, but whose execution was now under way in Boyle Heights.

We parked on the west side of the bridge next to steel gates and barbed wires. Homeless people still gathered in the shadows under the arches. A lone woman on a bicycle pedaled up and shot some photographs; as did an old man in a bright yellow Porsche convertible who sat in his car and then drove off.

Fascinating to me, even after 21 years in Los Angeles, is how civic grandeur and public spaces are degraded and neglected. I grew up in Chicago, where Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, the Lakefront, Soldiers Field, the Field Museum, and Water Tower were proudly shown off and cared for. They left an impression on a small child. We drove downtown to admire our city, not run from it in fear and revulsion.

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What is one to make of the disrespected and defiled 6th Street Bridge with its decapitated light posts, the arches sitting in mountains of trash, the human beings laying underneath the noble, carved, Art Moderne piers? Where does 3,500 feet of concrete, erected in the grandest and most elegant way, where does it go?

Some who spoke of the life of the condemned bridge talked about movies that were filmed here. Is nothing real or important unless it starred in a film?  Does Los Angeles exist as an actual city or is it only a stage set whose humanity only matters when it is on celluloid? For all of the 85 years that the bridge sat in a sea of defiled urbanity did it only fulfill its importance when fakery was filmed around and on it? Is that why the exploits of the Kardashians are so valued, but thousands who set up mattresses under bridges in our city are ignored and forgotten?

One has heard from the leaders in Los Angeles, recently, that “working class Boyle Heights” and the new “Arts District” will mutually benefit from a new $428 million dollar bridge designed and constructed in modernistic form.

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But that is what they always say, these politicians and people in power, the ones who spend hundreds of millions, and, in the end, where are the human spaces, the parks, the housing, the stores, the markets, the schools, the health care, all those markers of civilization?

If life doesn’t exist under the 6th St. Bridge, then no bridge itself is capable of conceiving the rebirth of a neighborhood. It takes a village, as some obscure old woman once said.

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Last Night at MacLeod Ale.


During the day, I transacted business at Starbucks in Toluca Lake, and then, at night, I went, in denim shirt and pomaded hair, to MacLeod Ale, where all the whirlwind connections of my present life gathered, on the concrete floor of the brewery where the front door was raised up to the cold night air and smoky tacos were grilling outside on open-flamed ovens.

There was an RV trailer parked on the tarmac filled with knitting materials, and hanging knitwear, and, nearby, at the brewery tables, some people knitting. The urge to make something other than digital swipes propels a new generation.

Next door to the brewery, at the open door of Joe’s Auto Body, the acrid daytime odor of wet, chemical, sprayed car paint was yielding to roasting chickens and tamales on the griddle. Joe slouched on a milk crate, his face covered in white paint, phone in hand.

Dapper music collector Victor Torres, Jr. was spinning LPs on the record player, and his little brother Cesar was drawing illustrations and advising me on logos and creative visuals.

At the bar, Andreas and his friend Marcus, fresh off their bikes, had just pedaled here from Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank. I sat down at a stool to talk to Marcus and Andreas. Somewhere in his future, the former has plans to leave Echo Park and open a bakery in San Luis Obispo because it reminds him of his hometown, Gloucester, MA. He lost his job at Trader Joes after 15 years and told me he had grown up dyslexic and went to private school on scholarship.

I sipped a bourbon-aged beer, and spoke to another man, Mr. McReady, who was very happy. He was just fired, but had collected a great severance package, after 22-years-at-a Burbank cleaning empire. He has great, expensive, bendable eyeglasses and lives with his wife, who never comes to MacLeod Ale, on Calvert St. near Hazeltine.

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Roderick

Roderick Abercrombie Smith, the handsome, bearded, prodigiously talented, blue-eyed Scottish born painter, currently, happily, living in a van, was at the other end chatting it up with gregarious Ian Wright, the British born carpenter. I waved to both men as I ordered a beer from the always cordial manager Steve.

That beer was called Heather Bell [Scottish Gruit]. MacLeod describes it this way:

“An ale traditionally made without hops, but bitter herbs instead. Ours has heather tips, marsh rosemary, and red clover, and a few hops thrown in to keep it legal. Made in collaboration with our friends at Solarc Brewing.”

In the back, a table was set up for the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). Kelly Martin, Development Director, introduced herself. She was there with others from her organization discussing an upcoming 5-Day Long Climate Ride from Eureka to San Francisco whose sponsored riders will donate their money to the LACBC. Someone handed me a beautiful, scenic calendar with color photographs, but I left it on the table and wandered off.

Anita
Anita

Anita of Orion Avenue, articulate and lovely friend and neighbor, came in and we hung out. She is married, and a mom, and an engineer, and savvy, and concerned about Van Nuys. We love it and agree it is confounding.  We love the picket fences and houses on one acres– surrounded by prostitutes and discarded sofas.

As I drank, she complimented my “fantastic” hair and told me I had good-looking friends on Facebook. And then (unintentionally) ruined the moment when she asked me what I did for work.

Then the beautiful Pinay, Stephanie Chan, walked in her with her long-haired Belarusian born roommate, a woman who reminded me of Ali McGraw in “Love Story”. Ms. Chan just bought a condo on Sherman Way between Kester and Van Nuys Boulevard.

Andy, the tall Texan brew worker in tight jeans, who exudes lily white, baptized, boyish machismo, and demonstrates affection for hops and hugs, came over and talked about his “Leaving for El Paso” beer. Hud would have played pool with him.

I steered myself into the room where darts were throwing, and I walked around, lightly intoxicated, past all those crowded tables of young men and woman rolling dice and moving objects over game boards.

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Stacey

Back outside, I went to order tacos, and bumped into burly actor Stacey Hinnen, here at the brewery with his two little girls, and he regaled me with his story of his latest acting job, down in Cuba, working with Don Cheadle on “House of Lies”.

Mr. Hinnen played a Koch brothers type character who was down in the communist country to regain property stolen from his family when Castro came to power. The actor said he had a scene throwing fists at his brother in the middle of a courtyard.

If Mr. Hinnen agrees, and Mr. Hurvitz (me) can get his shit together, the actor will one day play a character I wrote, Shane Davis, in a web series about my street in Van Nuys.

Jennifer, the owner, came into the brewery and hugged me and I introduced her to Anita and they both realized they knew some mutual people connected to former Van Nuys resident Donnie Wahlberg.

And then one of the best young characters to emerge in the MacLeod firmament came over, boyish and lanky beer poet, Sam Wagner, native of Manhattan, here in Los Angeles to put his great imagination and large intellect to work in that industry which despises and wastes both of those attributes.

Lizzie, the tall, dark, Scottish niece, only 22 years old, was hanging with Sam. They both had met working at the brewery. She is smart and thinking she might stay a while in Los Angeles, a decision that has proven the undoing of many before her.

They were selling beer last night at MacLeod Ale, or so it seemed on the surface. But what they were selling were stories: intoxicating, delusional, impossible, and possibly real.

If MacLeod Ale’s chemical and financial alchemy survives, we, who wandered into here, and drank the spirits, may share in the dream.